Company Name: Birmingham Enterprise Community
Approx Annual Turnover: £50-100k
Birmingham Enterprise Community (BEC) is a social enterprise that supports emerging entrepreneurs and early stage ventures. It provides a range of business advisory and training services through a range of initiates designed to help new businesses from any industry to go through ideas to scaleup. BEC runs the FORWARD Accelerator Programme – one of Europe’s fastest growing Accelerator Programmes.
Key markets for BEC in the past have been regional based (Midlands). However, recently it has been able to attract interest on both a national and international scale. It’s current FORWARD Accelerator cohort is made from 50% international startups who have interests in using the Midlands as a UK base or relocate the centre of their operations to the region.
Why did we need to do something different?
There is a shortage of support for early stage ventures within the Midlands region and when we launched our support in 2019 we helped to play a part in filling this gap. During the COVID-19 crisis, the need for this support has been especially important as these early stage ventures try to navigate the challenging business community.
Much of the support that BEC delivers is through initiatives powered by physical interaction using programmes and events. However, this is not currently possible with the current social distance requirements. Within two weeks of the UK entering lockdown in March, BEC had managed to digitise its whole service offering and is now running programmes and business support virtually, allowing it to still support it’s community during this time.
What did we do?
The process involved finding alternative methods of delivery for business training and advice. BEC needed to map out the requirements of the support required by the community of early stage ventures and find ways of being able to deliver this support during a time when the UK was in lockdown. BEC found alternative methods of delivering support using various digital tools – including Zoom, Slack and other platforms – to enable it to be able to run events, workshops and facilitate mentoring and coaching services.
BEC has created a community of emerging entrepreneurs which allows early stage ventures to benefit from interactions between one another, mentors and other individuals and organisations within the community. These interactions are extremely valuable in helping supported ventures to share ideas and knowledge as well as building key connections which may lead to partnerships, clients, suppliers and more. The greatest challenge was to enable these interactions when the community is unable to physically meet. The way BEC has been able to overcome this is by having a central virtual learning platform that allows it to build a collection of resources and knowledge for the ventures it supports to access.
BEC spent much time reaching out to other businesses and individuals during the start of the crisis to share ideas on the best way to adapt and respond to the situation which helped to influence its planning and strategy for COVID-19. BEC had also been talking with local entrepreneurs Simon Jenner & Jof Walters (Silicon Canal, Million Labs) who had been developing a platform called ‘My Startup Sprint’ about using this new platform before the crisis. The timing of the adoption of this new platform was a key factor in BEC’s rapid response to COVID and it’s ability to quickly digitise the support that it offers.
Our new service
Whilst BEC was working to digitise its flagship FORWARD Accelerator Programme, it also looked at what other support it could be offering to the community at this time. It saw that many individuals were still wanting to explore creating a new business and those that had recently started were in great need of support. Therefore, BEC created a new programme called ‘BEC Startup Sprint’ which is a month long intensive programme for people looking to start a business or who have recently started. This programme is an entirely virtual programme meaning that it can fully operate during the COVID-19 crisis. It has been designed using a range of virtual tools in combination to mean that it provides comprehensive and value support to startups in a highly effective way that individuals and teams can access from their homes.
The first cohort of the BEC Startup Sprint ran in May 2020 and has had a deep impact on the Startups on the programme. Through a range of workshops, mentoring and access to a platform packaged full of information and extra resources, the startups were given a month of training and advice to help them start and build their businesses in the right way by taking them through the fundamental steps that every new business needs to consider. At the end of the cohort, several of the startups commented that they did not think that a virtual programme could deliver a high level of support and connectivity with a community but the design and use of tools and platforms on the Startup Sprint meant that they felt connected to the rest of the cohort on the programme and could access a range of resources that provided them with specialist business advice and training that allowed them to improve their business skills and knowledge.
BEC also provided several free scholarships to it’s new Startup Sprint programme to Female Founders. Equality and Inclusivity are extremely important to the whole BEC community and the organisation knows that it has a responsibility to do what it can to remove barriers to groups usually underrepresented in entrepreneurship. As a response to the findings of the Alison Rose Review in 2019, which showed only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs are Female, BEC decided to open more opportunities to Female Founders to engage with the support it offers. As well as a free space on the programme, the female founder scholars also received specialist mentoring from inspiring women who understand the barriers faced by women starting businesses.
“COVID-19 has been a challenging time for the whole startup community. However, by applying the same entrepreneurial principles we have embedded in our programmes, we were able to rapidly respond to the needs of our community and provide them with the support that they need during the current crisis” –Daniel Evans, Chief Executive Officer at Birmingham Enterprise Community.
“Honoured to have been selected for the female founder scholarship on the BEC Startup Sprint. It is so amazing to grow as a business alongside so many other talented and driven female entrepreneurs- it has motivated and inspired our team to strive for excellence and always take the chance to build each other up. The mentoring sessions were so insightful and have helped us tackle the important questions we have as a startup during this unprecedented time.”Dina Bahrami, Founder of Nutri Beauties – a recipient of the BEC Female Founder Scholarship.